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City of Warrnambool Rowing Club History

City of Warrnambool Rowing Club – 140 years on the Hopkins River

By Susan Finnigan

 

Chapter Four: Peace, Olympics, alcohol, tragedy, a new shed and a few wins

 

Following World War Two the Club regrouped. The first motion passed was that the boats loaned to Nest-Anglo Club be left with them until needed, a pair and four, and a note for thanks for the care of them be sent. The Club formed a social committee, which included lady rowers. At this meeting Miss Jessen stated, ‘that the ladies were agreeable to help in every way until the end of the financial year but after that they hoped to have their own Club going again’.132 The Warrnambool Rowing Club planned repairs and improvements to the shed and after protracted negotiation purchased the boatshed from the formidable Ladies’ Club trustees in 1947 for £125.133 134

The Club hosted a Boxing Day Regatta with the usual attractions including ‘Sheaf’ throwing (1st prize was £5), Highland Dancing, Miss Hopkins competition and an evening dance at the Town Hall. The spectators were catered for and buses left the Fletcher Jones factory hourly.


 

Lightweight Eight: 1947- 48 season.

L-R: Les Sheedy, Geoff Kay, Doug Baillie (cox),Keith McLeod, Don Tinker, Leon Whitson, Ray Kenneally, Jim Hocking, Keith Primmer. Don Tinker’s cousin Eric and Uncle Stan were also Club members.


Lightweight Four: 1947-48

L-R: Des Munday (cox), Keith McLeod, Kevin McKay, Ron Thorne, and Fred Toohey.

In 1948 the Trustees of the now defunct Ladies’ Rowing Club gave a £25 cheque to the Warrnambool Rowing Club. The money was used to commence a fund for a new boat.135 In October a racing four was purchased, named “Our Ladies” and Mrs Jenkins, trustee for the Ladies’ Club, christened it.136

 


Mrs Jenkins christening the Warrnambool Rowing Club’s new four ‘Our Ladies’: 1948.

 

Inter-Club races were rowed on the Moyne River on Labour Day to aid the Port Fairy Hospital. The ‘Woollen Mill Rowing Club’ was formed around this time and quickly faded.

The 1948 Boxing Day Regatta was a treble with Colac and Camperdown Regattas on the following days. With nine events on the program the Club entered eight of the races and won seven. The following clubs were also represented: Ballarat, Ballarat City, Wendouree, Barwon, Corio Bay, Lake Colac, Nest-Anglo and Yarra Yarra. Races were rowed using seven lanes and most were first and final. The Club loaned the Ladies Pair to the newly-formed Woollen Mill Club.137 The officials listed in the programme included the Mayoress Mrs J. B. Dwyer. Mrs G. Sheedy and Dr Miller were judges of the ‘Miss Hopkins’ competition, and Highland Dancing Stewards were Mr & Mrs G. Collins. Advertising in the program included many businesses and names of rowing families including Cec. Kenneally hairdresser and tobacconist, Staples Garage, A. McLeod’s ‘Macks-for-Snacks’, Ecker’s Hotel with ‘beer cooled in the wood and drawn direct from the refrigerated cool room’, Gills Jewellers and Peter Hand, hairdresser and tobacconist. In the evening a ‘Monster Regatta Palais’ was held at the Warrnambool Town Hall with 60-40 Dancing, the Paramount Orchestra, novelties and a presentation to ‘Miss Hopkins’. Admission was 2/6, including a taxi.138

Visiting crews would arrive a few days before regattas and the rowers would host the visitors to Christmas lunch with their families. In the 50’s Desmond Thompson’s family hosted a rower ‘Jim’ Gobbo who rowed for Melbourne University. Jim went on to be Sir James Gobbo, Governor of Victoria. Gobbo rowed in the Oxford University Crew which won the 100th Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.

The Club’s President from 1949 to 1952 was Dr W. G. Miller (Wally), who worked in partnership with Dr Brauer at their Koroit St Clinic and at the Warrnambool ‘Mental Hospital’. It was reported with sadness that he had an untimely death in 1971.

Successful crews in the 50’s included the Club four at Camperdown with the crew Desmond Thompson, Jack Chislett, ‘Pud’ Hetherington, Keith Primmer, coxed by Des Munday. ‘Lightweight’ referred to rowers under 10 stone and this was extended around this time to 10 ½ stone and crews had to be changed. A Maiden Four was won at the Boxing Day Regatta in 1952 with stroke Ian Thompson, Jack Chislett, Des Thompson and Keith Primmer. The only scullers during this time were Fred Toohey and Bill Torrence, who also rowed with builder Arthur Thompson in a pair. Bill had a bad day when he was doing maintenance on his precious scull and the shed doors swung closed, the boat was smashed, beyond repair.139

 

 


A break to check the boats and perhaps a comfort stop: c.1950.

The Club’s bus was owned by Warrnambool Bus Lines and driven by ‘Snow’ Dodds - Charlie’s brother. It was adapted to carry one-piece eights. On the bus checking the boats is: Peter Johnson and Ron Thorne. Front of bus L-R: Des Munday, George Merriman, Doug Baillie, unknown, Jim Hocking, Kevin O’Grady, unknown, Les Sheedy, unknown, Keith Primmer.


Lightweight Pair: c.1949.

L-R: Doug Baillie (cox), Leon Whitson, Don Tinker.


Coxed Men’s Pair c.1950

Arthur Thompson and Bill Torrence would have been in trouble after this row as they are below the Hopkins Bridge.

Excitement mounted as the Hopkins River was being investigated as a possible venue for the 1956 Olympic Rowing events, as no suitable course was available in Melbourne, and only Warrnambool and Ballarat could provide the required 2000 metre course. The Mayor conveyened a public meeting held on June 26 1950 to discuss an Olympic Rowing course on Hopkins River.140 In 1951 Warrnambool was visited for assessment as the rowing venue.141 Mr Gladman, Assistant Lands Minister, supported the move stating that the course on the Hopkins was Olympic standard in length and depth and could take between six to eight boats abreast. He estimated that 500,000 people could line the river banks to watch the events.142 The negatives of the Hopkins were that it could not be secured to allow for spectators to be charged entrance, the width was barely enough and the current too strong when the mouth was open.143 It was not to be and in 1956 Olympic Rowing was held in Ballarat. After this regatta courses were progressively measured in metres.

The Victorian Rowing Association had an appeal raising funds to buy food for the English oarsmen competing in the Olympic Games. The Warrnambool Club sent 17/6. In 1949 a racing eight was purchased from Corio Bay for £80 and renamed ‘D. Fletcher Jones’. Another eight was renamed ‘Chas E. Dodds’, a racing pair named ‘L. E. Sheedy’ and a practice eight named ‘Belvedere’.144 A treble regatta was started over the Christmas period with regattas being run by Warrnambool, Lake Colac and Camperdown.

By 1950 there were plans for restoration of the Port Fairy Rowing Club and the Warrnambool Rowing Club wrote offering the loan of a tub (regulation) pair and that if the formation of a Club was successful a practice four also.145

 


At the Warrnambool Beach: c1950.

 Charlie Rane, Charlie Dodds, Alf Steere and Jim Fary.

 


Miss Hopkins: c1950.

 Miss Noel Forester, Ballarat.

 

 Charlie Dodds: c1976. 

At some stage the Club’s colours were temporarily changed to a pink singlet with a diagonal gold strip however the only member known to wear this top was Bob Stephenson. The Club’s colours were pale blue until 1953 when permission was granted by the City Council for the Club to use the city crest, to race in the city colours of royal blue and gold and to be known as the City of Warrnambool Rowing Club (CoWRC).146

The club was very social and had a basketball and table tennis team in the 1950’. From the early 50’s until the late 1960’s many rowers took only oars to regattas and borrowed boats- club did not loan their best boats and sometimes bale twine was used to attach the riggers.

City of Warrnambool Rowing Club (CoWRC) competed at the Camperdown Rowing Club’s fifth regatta at the South Beach of Lake Bullen Merri, on Saturday January 2 1954. The 11 event program included entries from Ballarat, Ballarat City, Melbourne, Yarra Yarra, Lake Colac, Hawthorn, Barwon, Banks, Corio Bay, Sale and South Melbourne.147 The Club’s 1954 Annual Boxing Day Regatta was part of the Western District Treble. Lake Colac Regatta was the following Saturday and Camperdown’s on Monday January 3 1955.148

 

 


The original Club emblem and the 

City of Warrnambool Rowing Club emblem 1953- current.

 

The old emblem was sewn onto the Club Blazer and was introduced about 1948 (changed because it was thought too prominent).


Warrnambool Four in Ballarat: c. 1950.

L-R: Geoff Kay, George Robertson, Peter Johnson, Ian Anderson, Des Munday (front).

 


Warrnambool Men’s Four: c.1950

Cox Des Munday, Keith McLeod (stroke), Kevin O’Grady, Ray Tucker, unknown.

In the late 50’s eight ladies decided to start rowing and rowed from the CoWRC shed as the Warrnambool Ladies Rowing Club. Four of them worked at Fletcher Jones and they made the crew’s yellow shirts, Frances McKinnon embroidered ‘W.L.R.C.’ on the front and they wore blue knicks with a yellow stripe. The ladies were coached and coxed by Fred Toohey and Jean Duggan with Terry O’Keefe assisting. They competed at Essendon and Albert Park Regattas. The ‘men didn’t like us there…there is nothing like coming out of an office and rowing up the river….we were so fit and loved it’ were the crew’s sentiments.149 The City of Warrnambool Rowing Club offered the Warrnambool Ladies Rowing Club the ‘Beeching’, racing four, for the sum of £10, in 1958.150 Then in 1961 a motion was passed that the Warrnambool Ladies Rowing Club be allowed the use of the shed.151

 


 

Warrnambool Ladies Rowing Club: c1959.

1.Regina Mersch, Frances McKinnon, Pam O’Meara,* Betty Clark,* Jean Duggan and Pam’s brother.

2.Regina Mersch, Hannah unknown, Betty Clark*, Helen Forester*, Pam O’Meara*, unknown, Frances McKinnon and ‘Lally’ Boyle*. * maiden names

The Club voted G. Hand Club historian in 1959, with the plan to compile the Club’s history.152 In 1960 plans for a jetty were to be forwarded to local Council for approval.153 Construction of staging (landing) was commenced using working bees for manpower.

Tragedy struck the Club on September 26 1960 when the river was in flood. Pat (Chops) Suhan, aged 22, was drowned when coxing a men’s four, after their boat struck the bridge and broke in two. Four of the rowers reached the bank and Harold Warren returned to the water to assist Pat Suhan. He was unable to reach him and both men were swept to sea. Harold Warren struggled to shore 600 metres east of the river entrance. The crew of John Gleeson, Robert Stephenson and James McLaren were treated in hospital. After this incident, the Club decreed that no boat should go under the bridge and to keep a safe distance. 154

There was plenty of activity on and off the river in the early 1960’s however by 1970 it was a different matter. A four-oared racing boat, used in the 1956 Olympics was purchased from Mercantile Rowing Club in 1961. Mr Chas Dodds meticulously rebuilt the boat in the early 1970’s. He was with the Club for over 50 years and was pivotal in keeping the Club’s fleet in working order. Ron Pickett won the Mayor’s Trophy during the 1962 season and the Club was upgrading infrastructure.155 Erection of a Clubhouse commenced with the Club building onto the boat storage shed (the old ladies shed) and in 1963 a boat trailer was purchased. The Western District Rowing Association (W.D.R.A.) was wound up and the money distributed to the member clubs with City of Warrnambool Rowing Club receiving £5.156 157 The 1964 annual meeting reports included ‘that the new building should help consolidate the Club as a whole”.158159

 

 


1.Extending the rowing shed of the original Ladies Rowing Club: c. 1964 2.The ‘new shed’ was added in 1964-1967

 The rowers did their own blasting of the rock under the direction of Charlie Dodds, assisted by Kevin O’Grady and Don Tinker.  The new shed was buiilt onto the older boat storage area of the ‘old’ ladies shed. The toilet block (dark brick on right) was added 1978.


A new boat trailer was purchased in 1963. Photo c1970

With more motor boat activity on the river, the CoWRC made an appeal to the Hopkins River Authority requesting safe rowing waters; ‘from 100 yards downstream of Rowans Lane to the Clubhouse being without unnaturally disturbed water’.160

Another motion in 1964 was passed to approach the Hopkins River Authority re ‘a bylaw forbidding the use of buoys and other hazards which constitute navigational hazards as the buoys have affected damage to Club equipment’.161 There was also a ski jump in the river at this time. By the end of the 60’s rowing numbers had decreased and in 1967 the Club agreed it had no objections to the City Council request to extend the zone for the power boat club by 100 feet, ‘providing they do not infringe any further part of the river’.162

 

 


Warrnambool Novice Four, Winners Ballarat Regatta: 1963.

D. Everrard, I. Goddard, L. Moloney, B. Stapleton and cox A. Thomas. Coach K. O’Grady.

A motion was passed in 1965, that ‘members of the disbanded Nestles (Men’s) Rowing Club have been welcomed to the CoWRC. It was pointed out that at any time they can be released from any obligation to the Warrnambool Club if and when Nestles Rowing Club reforms’.163 One rower who joined Warrnambool from Nestles was W. (Bill) Scutcheon who had been coached by his uncle Roy. Bill became an active rower, participant in ‘social’ activities and a Life Member.

 


 

Warrnambool Maiden Pair, Winners Albert Park and Ballarat Regattas: 1965.

B. Stapleton (str) D. Everard (bow) and A. Thomas cox.

Stroke B. Stapleton with bow J. Pettit also won the Maiden Pair Scotch Mercantile Regatta: 1969.

To increase membership and acknowledging that crews were attending less regattas, competitive Sunday rowing commenced with weekly points gained for trophies.164 A motion was passed to write to the VRA explaining that the Club was not prepared to make the requested donation and to inform the secretary that the Club had paid for but not received an amended constitution.165 Nestles Ladies Rowing Club was planning a regatta on the Hopkins on November 12 1966 and asked Warrnambool to provide four officials. The Club responded that it was ‘only too pleased’ and also extended an invitation for Nestles to have full use of the Clubrooms and equipment for the ladies regatta.

The Club history was returning to the Club. Mrs Hope donated a cup won by her husband Mr Hope, Club Captain in 1920. It was voted to be kept as Club property and a letter of thanks sent to Mrs Hope.166 There was a vote of thanks to Tom Anson for the kind donation of pictures of past crews. Other restored photographs of past crews were also hanging in the Clubrooms.167

With less crews rowing from 1966-1969 sculling was to predominate. In 1967 the President reported that the successful scullers for the year had been Ray Tucker and Kevin O’Grady. He also mentioned the work being carried out on the new extension to the shed.168 The annual Club open day was to be in October. Invitations were sent to Corio Bay Rowing Club, Ballarat clubs and Nestles, both men and ladies clubs.169 In 1968 it was recorded that the fee for the Post Office Box was $2.170 Ray Tucker won the handicap sculls at the Ballarat Regatta in March 1968. The Club was considering re-affiliation with Victorian Amateur Sculling Association and a letter was sent to see if sculls could be loaned to members when competing in Melbourne.171 President James W. Taylor reported at the AGM that there “had been very little activity this year” and appealed for more support to ‘keep the Club alive’.172 Due to low membership the rowing Club declined the request to sell tickets for the International Rowing Fund.173 174

In 1969 Nestles Rowing Club wrote to the CoWRC regarding the potential of a re-formation of the Warrnambool Ladies Rowing Club. The CoWRC members replied that they didn’t have the facilities to cater for lady rowers however a meeting was planned for further discussions.175 Roy Scutcheon answered members’ questions at the meeting and said if Warrnambool can supply ladies Nestles is happy to help with equipment. Another meeting was planned but did not eventuate. The CoWRC could not see the point in duplicating clubs as there was already a ladies club on the Merri River.176

Nineteen sixty-nine was not a good year for the Club. It had $46.52 in the bank, an un-roadworthy boat trailer and boats in need of maintenance. Charlie Dodds was approached to give assistance repairing boats for a cash remuneration and the trailer was sold to the Bendigo Club, who had requested equipment, for $150 in ‘as is’ condition. The Club’s ‘Opening Day’ included rowing events at 2pm, with the town clerk closing the river from 1.30pm-5pm from the bridge to the start of the de-restriction signs, Bostock Street.177

 

 


1. Sinking at the Colac Regatta: 1971.

2. Returning from a Melbourne regatta: 1972.

Dinner stop at Sundowner Hotel, Geelong. L-R: Brian, Keilor, David O’Grady, Peter O’Grady. Right side LR: David Turland, Max Baudinette, Murray Rantall, Bill Scutcheon. This was a regular stopover during the 1970’s.

By 1970 the Club had $19 in the bank, attended only one regatta and there was despondency about the little amount of rowing happening.178 To make money and attract rowers South Rovers Football Club was given ‘Saturday night’ social membership and the High School were given permission to use the tub pairs. James (Jim) Taylor was re-elected president after a one year gap and progressively new members joined.

A positive sign was that 25 members attended the Mildura and Wentworth Easter Regattas. It was reported that the two Novice Pairs that competed were the first Warrnambool Rowing Club crew to compete at a regatta since 1965.179 180 The Club competed at the 1971 Mildura and Wentworth Regatta in a Novice Four.181 Membership was $5 and $3 social membership.182The Club was not winning races however was certainly having a good time off the water.


 


Warrnambool Novice Men’s Four: c.1972.

L-R: cox unknown, Evan McLaren, David Broderick, Ray Stevenson, Gary Hassell.

 


The boys at Dimboola Regatta: 1972.

L-R David Stapleton, Bernie Crimmin, Anthony Newman. Rear Murray Rantall, David O’Grady, David Turland and Jim Carter.

Licensing charges against 19 people arising from a police raid on the Warrnambool Rowing Club, were heard in the Warrnambool court on September 7 1971. Charges of selling liquor without a licence and possessing or controlling liquor without a licence and possessing or controlling liquor in an unlicensed Club were withdrawn. Eighteen people were fined $5 for consuming liquor in an unlicensed Club.183184 This was considered a lucky outcome as there were more than 50 people in the Clubrooms during the ‘raid’.

In January 1972 the Club had its first regatta win in eight years in a Men’s Novice Four at the Victorian Universities Regatta, on the Yarra. The crew was B. Crimmin, M. Baudinette, J. Carter and M. Rantall, with cox D. Friend, coached by W. Scutcheon.185 The crew won the following week at Footscray. The subsequent Colac Regatta was cancelled due to weather and the men did not have the opportunity for a ‘hat trick’.186

 

 


Warrnambool Men’s Novice Four, Winners at the Victorian Universities Regatta: 1972.

Bernie Crimmin (bow), Barry Stapleton, James Carter, Murray Rantall (stroke), cox Wayne Sherlock.  Coach W (Bill) Scutcheon.


2. Novice Fours, Winners at Wentworth: 1972.

L-R: David O’Grady, R (Bob) Edwards, Brian Keilor, David Turland, David Stapleton (cox) and B. Stapleton coach.

It was reported in 1973 that the erection of toilets at the City of Warrnambool Rowing Club’s rooms had been delayed because of lack of finance and building permit. Estimated cost to the project was $8,000-$10,000. Negotiations continued with the City Council into 1976.

 

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Footnotes

 

132 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 25th February, 1946, page 58-59.

133 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 26th December, 1946. Page 85. & 4th March, 1947. Page 89 & 15th April, 1947. Page 92.

134 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 19th November, 1947. pp 110-111.

135 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 8th January, 1948. Page 119.

136 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 7th October, 1948. Page 140.

137 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 8th April, 1948. Page 125.

138 ‘3rd Annual Regatta on the Hopkins River, Warrnambool Rowing Club’, program 26th December, 1949.

139 Oral History, telephone call Desmond Thompson/Susan Finnigan 12th January, 2016

140 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 21st June, 1950. Page 167.

141 ‘Advisor to inspect rowing course on Hopkins’, no author, Portland Guardian. 15th January, 1951. Page 4.

142 The Argus, 07 Jul, 1954. TROVE.

143 Oral History, telephone call Desmond Thompson/Susan Finnigan 12th January, 2016.

144 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 21st August, 1949. Page 153. 145 Warrnambool Rowing Club Minute Book 1935- 1953, Ordinary Meeting, 1st January, 1950. Page 163.

146 ‘3rd Annual Regatta on the Hopkins River, Warrnambool Rowing Club’, program 26th December, 1949.

147 Camperdown Chronicle, 22

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